Is the door completely closed for the Boston Bruins when it comes to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson?
The Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks were the two hand-picked teams chosen this fall by Ekman-Larsson, who has a full no-move clause in his contract, if the Coyotes were going to deal him this offseason. But a trade was never able to be consummated by Arizona with either the Canucks or the Bruins ahead of the opening of NHL free agency. At that point, the Arizona D-man’s camp reportedly said they were no longer willing to waive his no-trade clause this offseason and everybody kind of assumed things were dead in the water.
And they very likely are “on hold” at least to start the upcoming season given Boston’s salary cap situation and the way things currently sit between Arizona and Ekman-Larsson. It seems Ekman-Larsson would like to remain with the Coyotes if it’s at all possible. But there was further detail in a great 1-on-1 interview between Craig Morgan and Ekman-Larsson over at his Arizona Coyotes Insider website (subscription required) where it appears the trade door isn’t exactly slammed shut moving forward.
It’s no secret the Coyotes are going to be facing difficult fiscal times amidst COVID-19, and the $8.25 million AAV for Ekman-Larsson through 2027 represents a whopping 10 percent of their salary cap. The 29-year-old puck-moving Swede would be among the first to go if the Coyotes run into economic difficulties in this upcoming season, and there’s every reason to think the Boston Bruins would again be at the top of his list.
Just listen to Ekman-Larsson’s reasons for hand-picking Boston:
I knew Boston had some interest in me before I signed my contract here. That was one of the teams I felt wanted me and showed interest in me, and I spent a lot of time in Boston when I played in Portland, Maine in the lockout year (2012-13), so I was familiar with the city and I liked it when I was there.
Further Ekman-Larsson told the Arizona Coyotes Insider that he’s leaving further trade situations up to Arizona GM Bill Armstrong, and that leaves the door open for all of this to be revisited at some point during the regular season.
That’s a question for (GM) Bill (Armstrong) to be honest with you. There’s not much I can do about it. I’m just trying to stay in the moment. I know everybody says that but I really had a good offseason. I worked out really hard to show that I wanted to be here, wanted to get better and hopefully that transfers into the stuff on the ice. I feel really happy that I am here but if that day comes where they ask again, I will deal with it then.
In theory, perhaps the Bruins do start the season with a very young, inexperienced back end as currently constituted after losing Torey Krug in free agency. They could re-sign Jake DeBrusk to a contract in the $3.5-4 million AAV range and still have several million dollars in salary cap cushion should they opt not to bring back captain 43-year-old Zdeno Chara. The Bruins could get a read on prospects like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen over the first few months of the regular season, and then potentially pull the trigger on an OEL deal if things aren’t working out with the kids on a team with Cup aspirations.
Ekman-Larsson has a couple of 20-goal seasons as a defenseman in Arizona and would have had his seventh straight double-digit goal season last year were the regular campaign not cut a month short by COVID-19. That’s exactly the kind of back end offense that the Bruins are looking for both 5-on-5 and on the PP, and what they no longer fully have on their roster after watching Krug leave for St. Louis.
They would obviously need to shed salary cap space (John Moore, perhaps) and even have Arizona take on a portion of the contract in order to make the salary cap numbers work, but it’s something the Bruins could do mid-season if they clearly still need a veteran puck-mover on the back end. The Boston Bruins would also likely need to part with Vaakanainen in an Ekman-Larsson deal among other assets, something we reported at Boston Hockey Now earlier this week.
But this is all something to keep an eye on moving forward if the Boston Bruins don’t make any splashy moves to upgrade their blue line headed into the season.